Why we should love them … and how to make the most of them
What could be better than a food that’s delicious, good for you … and free? Blackberries are virtually the only commonly eaten fruit that is readily and easily found growing in hedgerows in both country and town, and is free for us to collect and eat. Like most other berries, not only do blackberries have a wonderful flavour, they are also rich in nutrients and antioxidants.
Why are blackberries so good for us?
Blackberries are rich in vital vitamins and minerals. One cup of berries (about 150 grams) contains 50 percent of our RDA of vitamin C – about the same as raspberries, and double the amount you get from a cup of blueberries or grapes! Vitamin C is important for healthy skin, teeth and gums, healthy blood vessels and of course, for a strong immune system. Blackberries are also considered a very good source of vitamin K for strong bones, and the mineral manganese, which helps our body to make energy from the food that we eat. Both vitamin C and manganese also help to protect our cells from ‘oxidative stress’ – i.e. they act as antioxidants, fighting free radical damage that contributes to ageing and disease. Blackberries also provide fibre to keep our digestive system healthy, and contain small amounts of most other essential vitamins and minerals.
In addition, blackberries contain many ‘phytonutrients’. These are substances produced by plants to protect them from the outside elements, disease or free radical damage. Although they are not considered essential to human life, phytonutrients may therefore have similar benefits for us when we consume them – especially working as antioxidants to protect our cells. Blackberries’ phytonutrients include quercetin, a flavonoid that is thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and work as a natural antihistamine. They also contain catechins, similar to those that are found in green tea, and anthocyanidins, the substances responsible for blackberries’ brilliant purple-black colour – both of these are also considered excellent antioxidants.
To top off these benefits, blackberries are among the lowest-sugar fruits. They contain around 5 percent sugar whereas apples contain about 10 percent, bananas 12 percent and grapes about 15 percent. For this reason, blackberries are considered to have a low glycaemic index (GI), meaning they only have a small impact on our blood sugar. Keeping a stable blood sugar and preventing peaks and dips is important for many aspects of everyday health and wellbeing, including good mood, hormone balance, and how our body deals with stress. Diets based on low-GI foods are also associated with decreased risk of conditions such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Low-GI foods are also great for weight control, and blackberries contain only 60 calories per cup!
How to pick and store blackberries
Look for bushes that are away from roads if possible, to avoid the polluting effects of traffic fumes. This is easier in the countryside, but if you live in a town, look for those growing along pathways, canal paths and around parks. Always pick from above waist height to avoid those that could have been urinated on by dogs or foxes!
Fresh blackberries should ideally be eaten (or cooked) within about two days. But they can be frozen at home to keep for later: freeze them on trays in a single layer to prevent them all sticking together, and transfer them to boxes when they are frozen. They are best thawed completely before cooking or eating.
How to eat blackberries
Of course, blackberries can be washed and eaten raw straight from the bush. They can also be used in a classic British summer pudding, or in a blackberry and apple pie or crumble – just like your mum used to make! Make a delicious smoothie with blackberries – you’ll find hundreds of healthy recipes online. Or try making a compote to go with pancakes. For the compote, use about a cup of blackberries, a tablespoon of honey and a touch of water – simmer and stir the mixture gently for about 10 minutes. Use the resulting mixture as is, or blend to make a smooth puree.
Why not try this delicious and healthy Blackberry Tart recipe, courtesy of The World’s Healthiest Foods website.
Combine walnuts and pitted dates in a food processor. Process until well mixed and ground, but not smooth (about 40 seconds). It should have a coarse texture when done. Press into a 9-inch tart pan. Set in refrigerator while making the filling.
If you are using frozen blackberries make sure they are completely thawed. If not, they will dilute the filling as they thaw and make it runny.
Place 2 cups of the berries along with the arrowroot in a blender. Add water or blackberry juice. Blend into a puree.
Place puree in a small saucepan along with honey and cook over medium heat stirring constantly for about 3-4 minutes. It should lose its cloudiness and thicken. When it thickens and the cloudiness is gone remove it from heat. Mix with rest of the blackberries and fill tart shell. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Make sure it is covered so it doesn’t pick up moisture from the refrigerator.